SERIES: NL Championship Series; Astros, 3-1.
Just like last season, the Houston Astros are one win away from reaching the World Series. This time, though, they have an opportunity to clinch at home.
The Astros hope to secure the first World Series appearance in the franchise’s 44-year history when they face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS.
Houston won all three home games in last year’s NLCS, before losing Games 6 and 7 in St. Louis. If the Astros can win Monday and sweep all three home games, they will bring the World Series to Texas for the first time.
“For us, it’s the best one out of three right now. It doesn’t get any easier,” manager Phil Garner said. “We’re in good position in terms of our pitching, our players and everything. But the job’s still got to get done.”
The Astros used outstanding pitching and defense to hold on for a 2-1 victory in Game 4 on Sunday.
After Albert Pujols and Larry Walker singled to open the ninth, putting runners on the corners for St. Louis, Houston third baseman Morgan Ensberg fired home on a slow roller by Reggie Sanders to get Pujols at the plate as Walker moved all the way to third. Lidge then induced John Mabry to hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Eric Bruntlett, who started a game-ending double play.
“From my angle I thought when they hit it, there’s no way we were going to be able to turn two and it was going to be a tie game,” Astros right fielder Jason Lane said. “To see Bruntlett get that feed like that and turn it, it was one of the best turns. I don’t think there’s many guys that can turn that double play like that.”
Houston won despite going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranding 11 runners, getting their runs on a solo homer by Lane in the fourth and a sacrifice fly by Ensberg in the seventh. The Astros are only 2-for-31 (.065) with runners in scoring position in the series.
“I’ve been really kind of laughing to myself about the runners in scoring position,” Ensberg said. “Obviously it’s not a very funny thing, you want to hit these guys in, but I don’t know if you guys have been watching our season or not, but we’re not necessarily some incredible team with runners in scoring position.”
Houston’s Andy Pettitte will try to record his 15th career postseason win, which would tie Atlanta’s John Smoltz for the most in major league history. Pettitte had his eight-game winning streak snapped in Game 1, when he surrendered five runs and eight hits over six innings in a 5-3 loss.
Pettitte indicated he was feeling no effects from the swollen right knee suffered during batting practice before the opener.
“No, I was able to do my stuff in between, threw my pen on the second day like I normally would and stuff like that,” Pettitte said. “I’ve been able to run around out in the outfield the last couple of days like I would like to do. I wasn’t able to lift my legs the day after, obviously, but that’s really no big deal. That was really the only thing that indicates it hindered me from doing.”
Pettitte is 0-2 with a 2.77 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals this year, including his Game 1 appearance.
St. Louis has not only had trouble solving Houston’s pitching, but has also had trouble keeping its composure. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and center fielder Jim Edmonds were both ejected from Sunday’s loss.
La Russa refused to make specific comments about his ejection after the game.
While slugger Pujols is batting .429 (6-for-14) with three RBIs in the series, the rest of St. Louis’ vaunted lineup has struggled. Walker is 2-for-12 (.167) in this series with one RBI, and Edmonds is 3-for-13 (.231) with no runs driven in.
“They have done some really good things, mixed their pitchers or patterns up,” La Russa said. “But we had so many weapons, and we’ve been caught enough times where we take the strike that’s there to swing at and chase something that’s not as good to hit. So we’re kind of in between, and I think no matter how good you pitch, we’ve got so many weapons, there’s a way for us to break through and we haven’t.”
Left fielder Sanders returned to the lineup on Sunday and went 0-for-3 after missing Game 3 with an injured neck and back. He leads all players this postseason with 12 RBIs.
The Cardinals will turn to ace Chris Carpenter, who allowed two runs and five hits over eight innings in a 5-3 victory in Game 1. The right-hander is 5-0 with a 1.91 ERA in six starts this season against the Astros.
“I can only control what I can control and that’s go out and try to make pitches and keep my team in the game and give them a chance to win,” Carpenter said. “So that’s all I’m going to do.”
Game 6, if necessary, would be Wednesday at St. Louis.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cardinals - SS David Eckstein (.294, 8 HRs, 61 RBIs, 11 SBs), CF Edmonds (.263, 29, 89), 1B Pujols (.330, 41, 117, 16 SBs), RF Walker (.289, 15, 52 in 100 games), LF Sanders (.271, 21, 54 in 93 games), 3B Mabry (.240, 8, 32) or 3B Abraham Nunez (.285, 5, 44), C Yadier Molina (.252, 8, 49), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.294, 8, 59). Astros - 2B Craig Biggio (.264, 26, 69, 17 HBP), CF Taveras (.291, 3, 29, 71 infield hits, 34 SBs) or LF Chris Burke (.248, 5, 26), 1B or LF Lance Berkman (.293, 24, 82, 91 walks), 3B Ensberg (.283, 36, 101), RF Lane (.267, 26, 78), LF Burke or 1B Mike Lamb (.236, 12, 53), C Brad Ausmus (.258, 3, 47), SS Adam Everett (.248, 11, 54).
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Carpenter (1-0, 2.25 ERA). Carpenter went 12-1 with a 2.90 ERA in 15 road starts in the regular season.
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Pettitte (0-1, 7.50 ERA). Pettitte is 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA over his last four home starts.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Cardinals, 11-5.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - A loss by St. Louis on Monday would mark the end of its time at Busch Stadium with the Cardinals set to open a new stadium next season. … 3B Nunez did not play Sunday due to a deep thigh bruise suffered in a collision in Game 3. 3B Mabry received the start and went 0-for-4. … St. Louis has dropped seven straight LCS road games dating to 2002. Astros - Houston has won seven straight home playoff games. … RHP Lidge has saved all three wins in this series, allowing one run and four hits over four innings. … SS Everett is hitting .333 (6-for-18) this season against RHP Carpenter.
POSTSEASON ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 1-2 on the road. Astros - 4-0 at home.
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